Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Becoming like a little child?

Our church's current sermon series is on spiritual formation, and we have a fabulous study guide authored by one of our pastors. Although it's supposed to be for home groups, I've also been using it for my own devotions, and I sometimes discuss them with the kids.

Last night I read part of the section labeled "Growing Deeper" (or is that "Going deeper"?) that mentions Matthew 18.3, one of the few places Jesus talks about change:
And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
One daughter remarked, "I remember being a small child and being very possessive and materialistic and selfish." The other one added, "And I thought I never did anything wrong."

Shades of psalm 51:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
I told the kids that children have good characteristics, too. For one thing, they know there's a lot of stuff they can't do -- they know they need help and they know where to ask for it. When we become adults, the temptation is to think we are the captains of our own lives, the masters of our fates, blah blah blah. I read on from Matthew:
"Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
So I guess we need to acknowledge our own weaknesses, know that we don't have it all figured out, and turn to Someone Who Can when we need help?

Sunday night when I was looking for that quote about spiritual disciplines, google led me to this article, which seems a hit piece. The spiritual disciplines are not a method of earning our way to heaven, or "substituting works for grace." Paul told Timothy, "discipline thyself unto godliness," or in the NIV, "train yourself to be godly." Training sounds like work, hard work -- but surely Paul wasn't confused about works vs grace!

No, we don't just sit there sipping champagne and eating peeled grapes; we have to do something -- but the thing we have to do is not Try Harder to do good (which some of the Pharisees did); rather, as Hebrews says, to "Make every effort to enter that rest."

Related to this is the strange concept of what God's work is.
Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
Which sounds easy. But! When I worry about the future, am I believing in Jesus? When I worry about what other people think of me, am I believing in Jesus? When I brood over stooopid things I've done in the past, am I believing in Jesus? So it's hard to do.

And if I want to train myself for believing in Jesus, one approach would be the standard toppling-of-the-idols one. If I think too much about money, so that money is my master, I topple it over by... giving it away. If I worry about having enough time for tasks, so that time is my master, I topple it by choosing to use some of it on high priority things. Meeting with a colleague for lunch even though we've got a lot of pressure at work. Giving time to serve at a youth camp, or to serve on a committee. That sort of thing.

But now it's time for bed -- way past it. But I enjoyed writing this.

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